A good horror comedy must be hard to make right. Many play with the troupes of a horror film, playing off the audience's knowledge of the genre, poking fun at the conventions of the genre. But if the comedy is too broad, you veer into the Scary Movie realm. Worse yet, if the characters are too stupid, you risk insulting the audience with a collection of clods that shouldn't be the heroes of the movie.
Ready or Not, the new horror comedy from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (both directed segments of V/H/S and Southbound) takes a different approach. The comedy comes from the characters, as they react to the situation in ways both very human and very funny, and makes the film a solid watch.
The film follows Grace (Samara Weaving, Mayhem) on her wedding day. Her soon-to-be husband, Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), is an heir to the Le Domas game fortune, but Grace is more anxious to be part of a family, having lived in foster homes most of her life.
The family welcomes her into their fold, but inform her she has to play a game at midnight, a family tradition. The game is picked by a mysterious wooden box, and other spouses who married into the family tell her the games can range from something as complicated as chess to a game of checkers.
Grace draws Hide and Seek, which seems to upset the family, especially Alex. Grace is informed she's to try and hide until dawn, and she heads out to find a place to lay low in the spacious manor. But the game is more serious than she suspects, as the family members, with the exception of Alex, arm themselves with antique weapons intent on hunting her down.
We're locked, loaded and ready to go.
Let the wedding party begin!
Alex uses one of the manor's hidden passageways (I guess all manors have them) to find Grace just as one of the maids is shot in the face by someone thinking it was the bride. And no, that's not a spoiler, it's in the trailer. Anyway, Alex tells Grace that his family will hunt her down and sacrifice her before dawn to satisfy the deal his great grandfather made with a man named Mr. Le Bail (translates to lease in English; I checked), which helped establish the La Domas fortune. If the family fails, it's believed that bad things will happen to them.
Alex has a plan to get her out of the house, which has been locked down by the security system. Of course, things don't go as planned, and, as you might guess, mayhem ensues.
The Bride has a gun,
everyone better run!
The script by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, is smart to spend most of the first half hour of the film allowing Grace to interact with the family before the game begins. Everyone seems to like her, especially Alex's mother Becky (Andie McDowell), and most of them do seem sorry when the game is declared. And, a big source of the comedy in the film, most are rather uncomfortable with the weapons they are given. One of the spouses ends up with a crossbow and has to spend some time on YouTube for a tutorial on how to use it. Alex's aunt Helene, however, is the one person who doesn't take a shining to Grace and is more than happy to arm herself with a battle axe in order to take her out.
That brings up the only problem I have with the script. The film opens on the game being played out in a flashback, where Alex and his brother Daniel witness Helene's groom losing the game of Hide and Seek. It sets up the premise, and gives Helene some motivation for her actions before and during the hunt, but it seems unnecessary. If you've seen the trailer, you know what's coming and the scene ends up feeling like padding. And if you walked into the theater without any spoilers, well, I think having events unfold without the early flashback would be a wonderful surprise. And, as Helene is given a moment to explain her actions (while displaying a wonderful willingness to use the axe), I think the flashback would have been better integrated into that moment.
The script is smart enought to explain why Alex didn't mention the game to Grace. After all, as most of the other spouses drew standard board games, he didn't expect Hide and Seek to turn up. And the conditions of the deal with Le Bail wouldn't have allowed the couple to elope without invoking some punishment that no one can define.
The cast is solid. Weaving is perfect as the bewildered Grace, who manages to foil most of the family's attempts on her life. Her performance made me forget her gleeful killer in Mayhem, and really shows her range as an actor. I just hope she stays in the horror genre, but I think suspect more mainstream roles are in her future. Too bad, as I'll now watch any horror film she turns up in.
O'Brien's performance seems a bit weak at times, but his attempts to help Grace are quite earnest, and his conflict between family duty and his love for Grace are well played. Adam Brody, as Alex's brother Daniel, is perfect as the wild card in the bunch. His lines are delivered perfectly and he sells his character arc well, torn between his feelings towards his family, particularly his wife and two children, his feeling towards Grace (hinted at early in the movie) and his feelings towards the family tradition.
And Henry Czerny, as the head of the family, manages to maintain the charm established early in the movie. He's earnest as he wishes Grace good luck at the start of the game, yet he pulls out all the stops to kill her. But, thanks to the script and the actor, his character never feels truly evil, just someone committing a reprehensible act for his family's benefit.
The action is brutal and bloody, without being overly graphic. At least until the end, which I'm not giving away. I'll just say, during the middle of the film, the scene with the exposed nail made me flinch, even though I knew what was coming.
As for the humor, most of it is confined to the second act, as the hunt begins. It's dark, nasty at times, and will make you laugh. It's not playing off of the troupes of a horror film, but more based on the character's reactions to the mayhem they must unleash and the unintentional results of it. The entire cast plays their parts as normal people suddenly called upon to be vicious killers. It's easy to feel they'd be fine with just sacrificing Grace, but most are grossly unprepared to hunt down a human being, and it shows in their performances. And Grace's reactions to the continual barriers placed against her survival are just perfectly delivered. Though the climax isn't as humorous, I still left the theater with a grin.
Ready or Not is a solid way to end the summer, a funny, well written horror film peppered with brilliant bits of comedy delivered by a cast that resists going campy and plays it straight. The ending feels natural, not forced, and, if you're like me, you hope the filmmakers don't try to force a sequel. The film is a joy and you'll be happy to re-watch it again, rather than risk a watered down followup.
So much for wearing white on my wedding day.